According to Christopher Hibbert and Ben Weinreb's London Encyclopedia, New Cross 'takes its name from an old hostelry and coaching house bearing the sign on the Golden Cross, which was famous for centuries'. Presumably at some point this pub must have been replaced with a new building, hence 'New Cross'. The diarist John Evelyn, who lived in Deptford, wrote in 1675 that he met a friend at 'New Crosse' in his coach before travelling down through Kent and on to France.
The New Cross House was on the border of Kent and Surrey and next to the original New Cross turnpike where travellers heading into London had to pay to continue on the road. The tollgate opened in the early 18th century and remained there until it was moved to the junction of the New Cross Road with Peckham Lane (now Queens Road) in 1813 - near the present White Hart pub.
This picture shows the tollgate in 1783 - the New Cross House sign can be seen on the left:
This image from the excellent Ideal Homes website shows the New Cross House in 1856:
Like other pubs, the New Cross House was not just a place for eating and drinking but an important centre of social life. For instance, in 1871, the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Servants' Benevolent Fund held its annual meeting 'at Mr Gordon's, the New Cross House, New Cross, on Wednesday evening, July 16'.
In the 1950s, the pub was associated with local gang the New Cross Boys and was smashed up in a battle with rival South London gangsters, as described in Brian McDonald's book Elephant Boys. Later things must have calmed down, because there seems to have been a folk club there in the early 1960s.
I am not sure at what point it changed name to the Goldsmiths Tavern, but when I first went there in the late 1980s (1988?) it was a gay pub. I recall dancing to Bronski Beat or something similar.
The Goldsmiths Tavern was where comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer started their show ‘Vic Reeves Night Out’ in 1988 (they had first met in a Deptford bar called Winsons’, where Vic was performing his 'Variety Palladium'). Music for some of their New Cross nights was supplied by Eddi Reader and Mark Nevin, soon to have a hit record as ‘Fairground Attraction’. After Vic and Bob’s Thursday night shows became too big for the Goldsmiths, they moved to The Albany Empire and then on to TV.
Mixmaster Morris also ran a club called The Gift there.
In the 1990s the punky/squattty/alternative crowd that used to hang out in the Dewdrop Inn in New Cross gravitated to the Goldsmiths. I used to go there sometimes for techno nights, here's some notes I made in September 1997: 'From the outside it now looks like a squat, a badly painted sign reading 'GMT Lager Daleks', the front plastered with posters. There's music every night and a 2 am bar. The relevant poster read 'Dekode - Tekno Upload - Bangin' Acid Tekno Trance'. Inside anti-vivisection and anti-arms trade posters on the walls, stickers around the bar and in the toilets (Millwall Anti-Fascists, Anti-Fascist Action, Anti-Election) but even here there was some 'Princess Diana, dearly loved, sadly missed' graffiti in the gents - is there no refuge? At the back of the pub is a big room with a sound system, camouflage netting for that free party effect and the dancefloor. Beyond that is a yard outside, a South London drug den with loads of people smoking. Presumably the barbecue is to disguise the smell' (of cannabis). As well as techno/drum'n'bass nights, there were punk and ska gigs. The Inner Terrestials recorded their Escape from New Cross album there in July 1997 . It was also during this period that Gil Scott Heron played a gig in the pub, as recalled here. Local band The Cherry Reds had a song called Lager Daleks on their 2004 album Fairytale of New Cross.
Inevitably it was eventually closed down following a big police raid and re-opened in 2003 in its current incarnation, originally with an Italian restaurant upstairs. Lately there have been funky and r'n'b nights there, not sure how they have gone.
So now a new chapter is set to begin, but the story definitely isn't over...
If you have memories/photos/flyers of the Goldsmiths Tavern/New Cross House in its various incarnations let us know.
Update June 2011: see also The Goldsmiths Tavern Remembered